Paul O'Connell was quick to praise Keith Earls after the latter was chosen at centre for the Lions' tour opener against the Royal XV in Rustenburg on Saturday.

It is the latest rise up the ladder for the Munster ace, 21, who was not even guaranteed his place in the provincial team at the start of the term.

Such were his performances since, he earned a place in the Lions squad - indeed he is its least experienced member - and is one of five Irishmen in the match-day 22 to face the Royal XV.

Squad captain O'Connell said: "He's a very laid-back type of guy; he's a quiet, unassuming guy; he's very eager to learn.

"He has something special. He has great pace, is very elusive, has a great step, a great fend-off, good skills.

"He's all you'd want and then he has a good head to go with it, which is very important."

Earls conceded that he is well ahead of his own expectations.

"I didn't think I'd even have an Irish cap at the end of this season. It was my first professional season and I was just hoping to get a few starts with Munster - not in a million years did I think I'd be on a Lions tour."